Introduction: Thinking difference

Arlene B. Tickner, David L. Blaney

Research output: Chapter in Book/ReportChapter

11 Scopus citations


A host of voices has risen to challenge Western or core dominance of the field of International Relations (IR). Amitav Acharya and Barry Buzan’s (2007: 288) assertion that it is principally “produced by and for the West” is typical of this discontent (see also Ikeda 2010; Mgonja and Makombe 2009; Qin 2007), as is swelling critique of IR’s colonial character (Inayatullah and Blaney 2004; Jones 2006; Shilliam 2011). That the field is indifferent to scholarly practices and policy issues outside the core and even dismissive of them, and that its primary conceptual tools, analytical categories, and concepts are ill-equipped for understanding many of today’s key global problems, is disputed by shockingly few scholars, even those that represent the “mainstream.” And yet, the core-periphery structure that governs the apparatus of intellectual production in IR has proven relatively immune to these charges (Tickner 2003; Tickner and Waever 2009a). Such concerns have motivated recent efforts to create recognition for contributions from the non-core as legitimate sources of IR knowledge. Much of the literature that purports to deal with International Relations elsewhere than in the United States and Europe is authored by Western, core scholars or, in rare cases, non-core scholars residing and working in the core. However, attempts to correct this imbalance, making strides towards expanding the discipline’s geographical boundaries by showcasing academic production and activity in distinct parts of the globe, are slowly gaining speed. A comprehensive study led by Arlene B. Tickner and Ole Wæver (2009a), International Relations Scholarship around the World, and likeminded works by Acharya and Buzan (2007, 2010), Branwen Gruffydd Jones (2006a), and Robbie Shillam (2011), bring to light scholarship not just about the non-core but actually produced by academics from or located in it.1 Notwithstanding key differences and limitations, all of these share a concern for the development of IR theory, widely understood (Acharya and Buzan 2007: 292) in the non-West and non-core and the potential of local knowledges to become a general framework for analyzing global problems. The “geocultural epistemologies and IR” project, launched in 2004, was premised too on the idea that presenting studies authored by a wider array of academics located in diverse countries and regions would both expose the provincialism of what now passes for proper IR (see Chakrabarty 2000) and give way to a process of decentralizing scholarship from its base in the West (Ikeda 2010: 30). However valuable this activity-and we have devoted much energy to it over the past several years-we now recognize that the entrenched asymmetries that continue to characterize the production of knowledge in International Relations seem to point to deeper issues rooted in the epistemological and historical narrowness of the field. Jones (2006b: 2-3) notes that IR “traces its modern origins without embarrassment to a place and moment at the heart and height of imperialism.” It is unsurprising, then, that the process of decolonization has been largely obscured by taking the existence of the state-system for granted. Similarly, Naeem Inayatullah and David L. Blaney (2004) suggest that the colonial origins of International Relations leave it hamstrung in its capacity to speak about issues central to the third world (see also Barkawi and Laffey 2006). More recently, Meghana Nayak and Eric Selbin (2010) have argued that the centering of critical thinking about IR around IR hinders our capacity to see all that it excludes. Thus, their goal is not just to “provincialize” or expand its boundaries but also to “decenter” IR itself. We hear them to be saying that currently invisible voices may resist being made IR even as they illuminate world affairs. Stated differently, the task at hand may be to question not only Western dominance of IR, but also the field’s claim to authority as producer of knowledge about world politics. The present volume takes up this challenge by exploring how knowledge of the “international” is produced around the world. Rather than simply point to the failures and hegemonic liability of IR, we interrogate nonWestern, non-core knowledge’s potential to become it. In doing so, we also suggest that the definition of what counts as International Relations should be both expanded and decentered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThinking International Relations Differently
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9781136473821
ISBN (Print)9780415781305
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Introduction: Thinking difference'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this